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Gainesville woman celebrates 70th birthday after medical battles
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Harriett Lackey describes her double organ transplant and leg injury Wednesday at her home in Gainesville. In 2004, Lackey underwent surgery to replace her pancreas and kidney when she was 57. After celebrating her 70th birthday, this year marks nearly 13 years since the transplants. - photo by David Barnes

Every morning at 5 a.m., Harriett Lackey made her rounds as a unit secretary at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, putting labwork and other reports on patients’ charts hours before the doctors arrived.

But she soon faced her own series of health struggles with moments of luck and blessing that she attributes to a higher power.

In 2004, Lackey had been diagnosed diabetic for 46 years and was in need of a new kidney and pancreas.

“(My doctor) told me if I didn’t get a transplant pretty soon, I’d be on dialysis,” she said.

According to the Living Kidney Donors Network, potential recipients on the waiting list can be holding on for five years for the match. But Lackey’s call came in after roughly two weeks.

“No one could believe I got one that fast,” she said.

Lackey was set for a December surgery that would last nine hours. The operation was a success, and Lackey has been on a series of anti-rejection medication since.

Her second medical battle came in 2007, when she was trying to “carry a lazy man’s load” of bags into the house and tripped on her own legs.

Lackey’s doctor tried to put plates in to help the two broken bones in her right leg, but they kept slipping out of position. Then, her doctor diagnosed her with a methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infection, a so-called “super bug” that causes staph infections.

It soon became the doctor’s opinion that she might need to have the leg amputated. With her 33 years at the medical center, Lackey wanted every option pursued.

The Gainesville woman then turned to her faith, ringing up the preacher at Calvary Baptist Church to have members of the church pray for her.

“All the deacons went around her, and they each laid hands on her and prayed,” Lackey’s daughter Beverly Clark said.

Lackey’s doctor had fastened a bar with screws into the leg, and her next doctor’s appointment showed she was on the mend.

Lackey celebrated her 70th birthday May 27 with a surprise party at The Collegiate, a ‘50s themed event filled with hot pink attire and poodle skirts.

“One of her friends who hadn’t seen her in a really long time said that she looks the best that he’s ever seen her look,” Clark said.

Approaching the 13th anniversary of her transplant surgery, Lackey said she hasn’t had any major health problems in years. According to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, 54 percent of transplant kidneys are still working at 10 years.

“She’s a strong lady,” Clark said. “She’s been through a lot in her life, and she’s a fighter.”

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